Re-Thinking Bath Towels

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Let's talk about towels. I'd had the same white towels for close to a decade (thank you, OxiClean) when I began to rethink my bath towels this past summer. With visiting guests and beach towels, our laundry burden was suddenly immense. Around that time, I discovered the Life Edited blog, and read a post about how waffle towels save space (both in your apartment and in your wash), which got me thinking.

After another bout of epic laundry over the holidays, I decided we should try an alternative to the usual terry towel to save time, resources and to avoid the musty-smelling bath towel once and for all. Before I tell you about my experiment, let me fill you in on some of what went into my decision to make the switch.

In her book Flanagan's Smart Home, Barbara Flanagan traces the huge, fluffy towel craze to the excessive 1980s, when she believes people fell in love with the enormous towels they would find in hotels. Retailers fulfilled their desires by offering "hotel towels." Soon, washing machine and dryer manufacturers responded with larger capacity machines to tackle these terry behemoths. The trend has continued, washing machines get larger every year; according to Consumer Reports, the larger machines today can tackle 25 pounds or more of laundry (a whopping 12 to 15 pairs of men’s jeans!). Today, a 35" x 66" bath "sheet" is considered a standard towel size in most households.

The towels most Americans have come to love are an environmental nightmare. Writes Flanagan, "It would be difficult to calculate the amount of natural resources consumed and abused in the process of  [washing and] poofing a single bath sheet to hotel-quality fluffiness… in addition to the sheer volume of cotton, a crop that demands plenty of water and pesticides.” Plus, terry towels just don't get dry after you've used them, which means they need to be washed all the more often.

So, what to do? There are several alternatives to enormous terrycloth towels, among them, smaller terry towels, linen towels, Turkish-style cotton towels, waffle-weave towels, and micro-fiber towels. I first bought a pair of Fog Linen Work's Chambray Towels made from linen (center above and below). The towels are attractive and very fast-drying. However, the feel against your skin when you dry yourself after a shower is a little rough and they took some getting used to. The towels did get softer with each wash, but they still left something to be desired--and at $52/towel, I was hoping for perfection.

Next, I purchased two Classic StyleWaffle Weave Bath Towels (below) made from 100% cotton from Gilden Tree. At $24/towel, they were more economical than the linen towels, and my husband and I have found that we like the feel of these towels much better. These towels will still take a little getting used to; to quote Flanagan again, "You;ll miss the security blanket-like fluffiness of your former towel. Grow up. Persist. There will be lighter loads of laundry filling fewer baskets and straining fewer appliances." And she's right, we should all grow up and ditch our wasteful terrycloth towels. I love these towels, and would highly recommend them to anyone looking for an eco-friendly towel or a way to lessen their laundry burden.

One last thought on eco-friendly towels: For women with thick or long hair, I also recommend a small, microfiber hair towel, like this 19" x 39" version from Aquis ($13, below). I bought mine twelve years ago for many-weeks-long trip to Europe, and used it as my only towel in some of the hostels I stayed in. I think the texture of microfiber would be off-putting for a full-size bath towel, but it is an excellent solution for drying hair. Like the other towels, it is very absorbent, so it will dry your hair and itself quickly.

Finally, if you make the switch, don't send your old towels to the landfill. If they are in good condition, a homeless shelter will likely be happy to take your towels. If they are more worn, your local Humane Society or animal shelter would probably be thrilled to get a donation of your old terry towels.


Tim Fenton said...

Jeez, I just bought a set of large cotton terry cloth towels. Perhaps waffle cloth towels will be in my future. Wish you'd written this a few months back.

Laura Fenton said...


Mia Lemus said...

This is great! I'm wanting to make the switch soon! This is very helpful


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